Cook Commissioners vote to make independent hospital board permanent
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
by Alex Parker
Cook County commissioners overwhelmingly voted in favor of making the
independent board governing the Cook County Health and Hospitals System
permanent this morning.
The ordinance creating the health board in 2008 was set to expire
next year. Commissioners voted 13-3, with one absent, to make the board
But while the health board is now permanent, county commissioners say
provisions in the amended ordinance would allow the health board to
revert back to the County Board's control, if there were enough votes.
"This is one more step down the road to a better hospital system,"
said Commissioner Gregg Goslin, the measure's chief sponsor.
"I think we need to state to the world that independent board is
doing the right thing in administering the hospital," said Commissioner
Since taking the helm at health system last May, CEO William Foley
has led efforts to improve efforts at enhancing revenue, cutting costs,
training staff and preparing the health system for jarring changes that
will come with national health care reform.
A long-anticipated strategic plan is due to the County Board in July,
and it will transform the way health care is delivered in Cook County.
Changes to Provident and Oak Forest hospitals are imminent, and there is
talk of increasing service to far-flung parts of the county.
And though the health board has been heralded as a departure from the
politicized nature of governing the County Board is accustomed to, it
has not been free of criticism.
Local business fear their contracts with the county are drying up,
after the health system entered into a group purchasing plan; unions
complain of a lack of representation and others, including County Board
President Todd Stroger, worry the health board has no accountability.
Some of those qualms were aired at the board meeting.
"Please explain why it is you want to pass a permanent board
ordinance with the elections less than six months away. What’s the
rush?" asked Christine Boardman, vice president of the Service Employees
International Union Local 73. She and others complained of the lack of
front-line staff on the board.
"Where's the inclusion?" Boardman asked.
William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois and a member
of the Emergency Network to Save Cook County Health Services, was a
staunch supporter of the independent board. But his support has wavered,
as he said there needs to be more community insight and fewer layoffs.
Some on the county board expressed concern about large salaries, a
group purchasing program and the lack of diversity of the health board.
"Is independent truly independent when one body must go to another
for financing?" Silvestri asked.
Commissioner Deborah Sims said there were too many questions
unanswered for her to vote in favor of making the board permanent.
"We have to put the people first, and I think that's what this board
has stopped doing," she said, calling the board "another level of
Health board Chairman Warren Batts acknowledged the board has made
mistakes, but said the independent board is good for health care in Cook
"The public needs to know we’re there for the future so their tax
dollars aren’t going to just disappear in actions a year from now," he
All three candidates for County Board president pledged to support
making the health board permanent.
"I am proud of the Board for recognizing and acting on the wishes of
voters, who rightly insist that we free our health and hospital system
of politics and patronage once and for all," said Democrat Toni
Preckwinkle, in a statement.
Both Republican Roger Keats and Green Party candidate Tom Tresser
said they were pleased with the development, but say they would move to
change the makeup of the board.
"I would make some changes to that board if I were in that position,"
Tresser said. "I would add more community representation, more
community practitioners … I’d change the face of that board a bit."
Keats said shaking up the board would provide more independence.
Here's how commissioners voted: